It’s a mystery.
Do you feel like you “eat nothing” but still can’t seem to lose weight?
If so, you’re not alone.
At my weight loss clinic, I frequently meet women who tell me that they are confused about how they seem to be eating very little but can’t shift the pounds.
What’s going on here? And what can be done about it?
In this article, I’m going to explain my observations over the years I’ve worked at my clinic and give my suggestions for how you can get to the bottom of this mystery.
But first, let’s look at example from one of my clinic clients, who we’ll call Emily.
Emily’s mystery weight gain
When Emily came to see me at my clinic, she was at the end of her tether.
She was 47 years old and after a lifetime of trying to lose weight (with occasional short-lived success) she was now watching the scales creep upwards.
Not only did Emily have no idea what to do about it (diets that used to work now didn’t) but she was bothered by something else.
She compared herself to friends and family and she couldn’t see how she could be overweight.
Emily felt like she hardly ate and yet here she was, not just overweight, but her weight was going up
“Is my metabolism slow?”
She worried that maybe it was something completely out of her control. She suspected that maybe her metabolism was slow.
If that was the case, was she doomed? Was that why no diet had ever worked? Did it mean no diet would ever work?
Let’s just review the main points about Emily’s situation:
This sort of situation is very common. Clients tell me that the worst part of this, is feeling that something is holding you back, so that no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to get anywhere. It’s deeply discouraging.
Emily needed to get to the bottom of this.
The 2 Groups of “Non-eating Weight Gainers”
When Emily attended my clinic, I explained that her situation was very common and that usually people fitted into two different groups.
Group 1: Slow Metabolism
Medical problems like hypothyroidism (low thyroid activity) can cause a slower metabolic rate.
But the fact is, this is very rare. The vast majority of people who are overweight, DO NOT have a slow metabolism,
Weight gain due to a medical condition or a slow metabolism is VERY VERY rare
(By the way, an underachieve thyroid is treatable with thyroid hormone replacement, but unfortunately, while this corrects the underlying problem it does NOT reverse the weight gain. So women with treated hypothyroidism still need to do the same things as others to lose weight.)
The bottom line is that if you’re overweight, it’s VERY VERY unlikely that it is related to a slow metabolism. That’s good news, but you’re probably still wondering “Well why can’t I lose weight?”
Group 2: Eating More Than They Realise
Most people are TERRIBLE judges of how much food they eat. And actually the evidence is that the more overweight you are, the worse you are at estimating how much you eat.
Probably 95% of people I’ve seen at my clinic who say they don’t eat much but still can’t lose weight, are in this group.
And most people who are in this group, don’t believe it.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s prove it.
Keep a Food Diary
The best thing is to keep a food diary.
In every book I’ve written about weight loss, I’ve said something to the tune of:
“If you can only do one thing to lose weight, keep a food diary.”
Food diaries are the ultimate weight loss accessory.
When you write down what you’re eating (accurately and as soon as you’ve eaten it), there’s nowhere to hide. You’re not relying on impressions. You’ve got the information right in front of you.
“If you can only do one thing to lose weight, keep a food diary.”
Food diaries are also useful, because not only do they show you where you’re going wrong, but also make you more aware of your decisions around food and drink, so that they help you change your behaviour.
It might feel annoying to find out that despite your beliefs and protestations, you actually do eat more than you thought. But think of the good news! It means there’s a clear reason why you’re gaining weight.
And the solution is also clear (we’ll talk about that shortly).
So what’s the bottom line?
1. Get checked out with your family doctor / GP, especially looking for thyroid problems (or noting any medications that might make weight loss more difficult).
2. Unfortunately, your impressions are not very reliable, when it comes to how much you eat.
3. The best way to see the relationship between what you’re eating and your weight is to keep an ACCURATE food diary.
4. In looking at the food diary, most people will find that they are actually eating more than they thought.
At the end of doing these things, for most women, it’s time to accept that regardless of what their impressions were, they are actually eating more than they need to.
“But I don’t eat much more than other people”
It’s easy to misjudge how much other people are eating. You may only see them for one meal where they indulge in a social setting and mistakenly believe that is how they eat all the time.
Some slim people who appear to eat a lot, also engage in “indulgence theatre”, where it looks like they’re eating a lot, engaging in public displays of serving themselves indulgent meals, but end up not actually eating what they served (either by leaving the food, throwing it out or passing it on to their partner).
And also you may be comparing meals, and not counting snacks which you may be having but they are not.
“How can I be so wrong in my estimate of what I’m eating? I assure you I’m not lying!”
No one ever said you were lying!
But it’s easy to lose track of what you’re eating. Here are some common examples I’ve seen with clients at my clinic:
– When you eat in the grips of emotion, it’s easy to lose track of how much you had.
– A special case is where some clients seem to be eating very little most of the time, but it is the “unusual” occurrences that tend to be the problem.
The two holidays over the last year, where they eat much more than usual, are enough to cancel out all the good work at home.
Just think, if you gain 1 pound every time you go away, and you go away three times a year, that’s 3 pounds a year more you will be carrying (and an extra stone after 5 years).
These people can easily fool themselves into thinking “I am so careful about what I eat” and yet there is a clear reason for why they are gaining weight.
– It’s so easy to lose track of snacks. Even people trying to keep an accurate food diary can easily forget to count snacks or miscount them.
– A subset of snacking, this is when you pick at things during the day, many of which don’t rise to the level of awareness or make it to your food diary.
– How often have you sat in front of the TV, got onto a roll with eating and the next thing you know, you’ve polished off an entire packet of something? It’s very easy to do, and very easy to underestimate how often it happens.
Not controlling your environment
– If you frequently have big packets of snacks at home and eat from the bag, then you are very likely to over-eat and not realise it.
Large portion sizes
– Portion sizes can easily creep up over time, and you may not even realise that it’s happened.
Guess what? That list I just gave you is the key to losing weight in a sustainable way:
Figure out which situations contribute to you gaining weight.
Maybe it’s emotional eating.
Maybe it’s mindless eating.
Maybe it’s not managing holidays properly.
Dieting doesn’t work
Think about the last diet you ever went on.
Did they talk about emotional eating? Or mindless eating?
I bet if they did, they probably said something really unhelpful like “Just don’t do it”.
That’s part of the reason why diets don’t work.
A diet is just a list of things you can and can’t eat, and it:
A. Doesn’t address specific challenges
B. Is not personalised
If you think there’s a DIET out there somewhere that will magically help you to lose weight and keep it off, you’re going to be disappointed.
Dieting doesn’t address all these situations, and so will never be more than a short-term fix.
Your slim and healthy future is not going to come about by dieting.
A big chunk of my time working with clients is focused on addressing areas like emotional eating, mindless eating and snacking because it’s hard to lose weight and keep it off without this.
If you think you eat very little and still can’t lose weight, do this:
1. See your GP and get checked for thyroid problems plus any other conditions or medications that might cause weight gain or make weight loss difficult. Remember this is a very rare cause of weight gain.
2. Keep an accurate food diary. It will show you how much you eat. There is nowhere to hide when you keep a good food diary.
3. Your key to long-term weight loss, is to identify the situations where you over-eat and change each of these. Throughout this website, you will find the answers you’re looking for.
Learn how to lose weight without dieting with my FREE introductory “How to Lose Weight without Dieting” E-Course